An essential guide to visiting the Old City of Shanghai

Feb 1, 2020 | Asia, China, Global travel

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(Last updated on: 29/04/2020)

The Old City of Shanghai is a beautiful part of Shanghai. Whilst Shanghai might be mostly famed for its high-rise buildings and modern infrastructure and technologies, it does also have an historical side too- and it’s well worth adding to your Shanghai itinerary.

If you happen to be planning a trip to Shanghai, then here’s everything you need to know about visiting the Old City of Shanghai.

Old City of Shanghai

Where is the Old City of Shanghai?

You will find the Old City area within walking distance of the Huangpu District. This is where the Bund is, as well as locations like People’s Square and Nanjing Road. In administrative terms, the Old City of Shanghai is part of the Huangpu District – but as it is so different, and has so much to do, it is generally considered a separate area of the city.

Shanghai is on the central coast of China. It is one of the four municipalities of the People’s Republic of China, and has a population of over 24.2 million people. The Port of Shanghai is the world’s busiest container port, and the city is a global hub in terms of transport, finance and innovation.

TRAVEL TIP: Metro lines 8, 9 and 10 travel into and near to the Old City.

There is one main international airport in Shanghai. This is Shanghai Pudong Airport, located around 19 miles east of the city centre. Flights to Pudong are available from many major cities worldwide. There is a second airport in Shanghai, too. However, Hongqiao Airport is mainly for domestic and regional flights.

Travelling around Shanghai is pretty easy. The metro is very efficient and there are a number of other trains too. You can take metro lines 8,9 or 10 to the Old City of Shanghai area. You can also take a Didi (China’s version of Uber and contribution to the sharing economy). However, I would advise you to check the traffic conditions first, because travelling by road can take longer than travelling by metro during busy times.

See the Old City here!

Things to do in the Old City of Shanghai

There is simply so much to see and do in the Old City of Shanghai. From beautiful architecture to bars and restaurants, you won’t get bored in a hurry. Here are some of the best things to do and see!

Visit the City God Temple

The City God Temple is an absolute must. It is a really famous Taoist temple, located at the centre of the Old City. The temple is one of the biggest (and best) examples of traditional Chinese architecture in Shanghai. The City God Temple was commemorates Shanghai being given municipal status, and it is the site of the veneration of three Chinese figures honoured as the ‘City Gods’ of the town. Don’t miss it!

Old City of Shanghai
It was very busy when we visited the City God Temple in Shanghai.

Admire the original architecture

One of the most enjoyable things to do in the Old City of Shanghai is to marvel at the traditional buildings and architecture. We spend hours just wondering around and taking photos. Although so did 1,000,000 other tourists… be warned!

As the Old City of Shanghai was originally defined by a defensive wall, this is something else you can see. Most of it has gone now, but there is a small (around 20 ft) surviving section which is a must-see. Alongside this is Dajing Tower. If you are interested in history, especially the history of China and Shanghai itself, then definitely schedule a trip to the wall.

TRAVEL TIP: nearby Suzhou has a larger and more well-preserved wall if you want to see one in all its glory.

Relax at Yu Garden

Yu Garden, also known as the Garden of Contentment, is one of the very best things to see and do in the Old City of Shanghai. It is a Ming-style private garden, built in 1559. The garden has been ransacked and restored multiple times. If you are into photography then visiting Yu Garden is perfect for you.

There are other temples and places of worship across the Old City of Shanghai. You can visit these, and they are definitely worth seeing! 

Go shopping

The Old City of Shanghai is filled with lots of small shops. Most of these are independent retailers, so if you shop here you know that you are having a positive economic impact as a result of your tourism!

Many of these shops sell traditional Chinese goods and holiday souvenirs. I even saw the Chinese equivalent of a Pound shop down one street that I thought was quite amusing. Oh, and there were lots of shops selling Christmas decorations during our visit too!

Try some of the local delicacies

There are many stores and stalls that sell food in the Old City of Shanghai. We had Haagen Daz ice cream from one shop and fresh mango from another during our visit.

We also watched a display of Chinese dumplings being made. This was a pretty cool, authentic tourism experience.

Old City of Shanghai
The narrow streets in the Old City of Shanghai are filled with food shops

Places of worship to visit in the Old City

There are many temples that are worth visiting, either for religious purposes or just to admire as a tourist. These include:

  • Baiyun Guan Temple, also known as White Cloud Temple. If you keep your eyes peeled you may spot the statue of the guardian spirit of your Chinese zodiac.
  • Chenxiang Ge Temple, which is a historic Buddhist temple. There is a statue, found on the upper floor, which is carved from a very rare type of wood. Something a bit different to see on your travels, maybe.
  • Wenmiao Temple, which is the Temple of Confucius. This is also where you can find Shanghai’s most famous vintage book market. Perfect for a browse!
  • Xiaotayuan Mosque, which is Shanghai’s largest mosque. It has a separate women’s mosque next door, and combine traditional Chinese and Islamic architectural styles.
  • Dongjiadu Cathedral, the historic seat of the Bishop of Shanghai. This was built in the 19th Century by Spanish Jesuits, and it is fairly small but great to see.
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How long should I spend at the Old City of Shanghai?

This is a difficult question to answer. You could visit the Old City of Shanghai in just a couple of hours. Or you could spend several days in the area. It is easy to chill for an entire afternoon at You Garden or to spend all evening at the various restaurants in the area.

I would recommend that you dedicate at least a few hours here.

Where to stay when visiting the Old City of Shanghai

The Old City itself doesn’t really have hotels. But Shanghai, of course, has an abundance. Whether you want a luxury stay or something that fits your budget, there are just so many places to get your head down in Shanghai. Here are some top picks…

Hotels in Shanghai

Les Suites Orient on Jinling East Road in the Huangpu District is within walking distance of the Old City. Yu Garden is just 10 minutes away on foot. The hotel has a 24-hour gym, free WiFi, soundproofed rooms with private bathrooms and gorgeous decor. There is a cigar bar, two restaurants and a business centre. Multiple languages are spoken here, you can check in 24-hours a day and also store your luggage here should you have awkwardly timed flights!

Ascott Huai Huai Road Shanghai is a 20 minute walk from the Old City of Shanghai. The height of elegance and luxury, the studios and apartments here have everything you need. WiFi is free, parking is available on site and there is daily housekeeping. With outdoor space and a bar, you can relax! There is a pool, fitness centre and even table tennis. A beautiful hotel in the heart of the city centre, this is a great base for heading out to explore the Old City and beyond.

The Peninsula Shanghai is on the Bund. This is the most famous area of Shanghai, and the perfect location for exploring the whole city. It has various room sizes and many amenities. WiFi and parking are free, and there is a pool, spa and gym located within the hotel. There is a bar and restaurant, 24-hour check in services and various cleaning and business services too. It takes just over 20 minutes to reach the Old City of Shanghai on foot from here!

Top tips when visiting the Old City of Shanghai

The Old City of Shanghai is a must on any Shanghai travel itinerary! Here are some of my tips for your next visit-

  • Pack your camera- there are lots of great photo opportunities
  • Try to avoid visiting on weekends and during public holidays because it can get very crowded with domestic tourists
  • Don’t take too many bags with you as some streets are quite narrow and busy
  • Make time to visit some of the temples (and don’t forget to dress appropriately)

So there’s everything you need to know about visiting the Old City area of Shanghai, China. There is plenty to see and do, and you’ll have a great day or two exploring. There is even a McDonalds and KFC in the Old City of Shanghai, so it hasn’t escaped the tourist traps. But sometimes, that’s a good thing…

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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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